New soccer season draw pairs AEK, PAOK in opening round

The draw for the upcoming soccer season’s 16-team first-division fixtures, held yesterday, pitted traditional rivals AEK and PAOK together in a first-round clash scheduled for August 19 at the Olympic Stadium, where AEK stages its home games. Defending champion Olympiakos and perennial rival Panathinaikos, looking to rebound after ending in third place last season, will clash in Round 9 with Panathinaikos as the encounter’s host. Olympiakos will greet AEK in the fifth round, and, two rounds later, Panathinaikos will host AEK. As for the main clashes involving Thessaloniki clubs, PAOK will host Iraklis in the second round of play. Iraklis will host Aris in Round 10. Olympiakos will host PAOK in the third round. The Thessaloniki club returns to Athens two rounds later to meet Panathinaikos. In other clashes, Cretan rivals Ergotelis, the Iraklion-based club promoted back to the top league after spending season in the lower tier, will greet Hania-based OFI in Round 5. Two of last season’s top three clubs, AEK and Panathinaikos, enter their new campaigns led by new coaches. AEK hired Spaniard Serra Ferrer from Spanish team Real Betis on a two-year contract earlier this summer. He replaced Fernando Santos, who opted to join Portuguese club Benfica. AEK’s skipper Costas Katsouranis, a key contributor to Greece’s Euro 2004 win, joined Santos at Benfica, whose roster includes another Greek international, Giorgos Karagounis. At Panathinaikos, the club hired Swede Hans Bakke for its coaching post after eventually parting ways with Italian Alberto Malesani. Bakke has won several titles in Scandinavian soccer and has worked as an assistant coach with the Swedish national team.